Mozambique: Who is fighting whom?

Pictures from Mozambique focus on two narratives. One is the humanitarian disaster; the second the natural gas fields in the region. Stakeholders in the armed conflict include a jihadi insurgency, which is new to that part of Portuguese speaking Africa; then Russian and other hired mercenaries on the ground, working on behalf of the government and security forces and linked to the major oil contractors.

Two prevailing questions from a security perspective are: Who is fighting whom on a tactical level? And who are the proxy stakeholders?

We spoke to Luíz Bernardino; an Infantry Lieutenant Colonel in the Portuguese Army with the Staff Course and currently conducting research at the Center for International Studies at the Lisbon University Institute and asked him who is fighting whom on the ground.

Colonel Bernardino tells us that “there are some links between what we call the Al Shabab and this new al Shabab. In fact in Mozambique we have this jihadist group called the AnSar al-Sunna ” the so called “defenders”, adding that these “defenders” provide support for weapons, communications and logistic to the insurgents. In doing so they have been able to gather and train a few people “not more than 100 because there were not more than 100 fighting from different directions and what we see is more or less a kind of fight for one to three days and then they disappear to the interior of Mozambique”, says Bernardino.

The attacks have intensified over the past couple of years “and what we saw in the beginning of this year more or less reflects a bigger involvement and of course a bigger number of people that were paid to fight in the name of Ansar al-Sunna whom we have never heard of before” states Colonel Bernardino.

From 2017 until now we have had about 1000 deaths, about 550 attacks and about 70,000 refugees and as Bernardino tells us “the population is a little bit scared about this because they don’t feel protected by the national army forces and they run not only because of the attacks but also because of the rumours”, as the situation in Mozambique takes a hold of the interest of the Media and social media.

For how long will the situation continue? As Colonel Bernardino tells us this problem will not go away quickly “ it is going to be a problem for the next couple of years because people will try to take advantage of the situation” by accepting money from fighting the population and as he states “in the middle of this you will find a couple of jihadist leaders that will also want to take advantage”.

But is there a solution? According to Colonel Bernardino the solution is a regional one, as this is a regional problem “so maybe what we’re going to see its the African Union and the SADC Task Force engage in the area with the mission and they will try to provide the security in the north part of Mozambique, they will try to fight the jihadists, and provide security to the population in the north part of Mozambique”.

Finally Colonel Luis Bernardino tells us that Portugal will also provide training, through the project Number 6. Project Number 6 is important because “as we see it’s one more project related to the building of bilateral cooperation and it is not engaged in the fighting it is not engaged in providing direct solutions to the problem but is the kind of reinforcement of the cooperation; it’s more or less another project that brings a couple of militaries to train the Mozambique armed forces and provide better conditions”.

Listen to the full interview below:

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